CMA Awards 2021: Complete list of winners, best and worst moments (2022)





Once again, it was Chris Stapleton’s night at the annual Country Music Association Awards on Wednesday, as the critically beloved vocalist swept up four trophies: song, single and album of the year for the acclaimed “Starting Over,” as well as male vocalist. But the most memorable moments belonged to singers who won in a category for the very first time.

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Luke Combs, the unstoppable top-selling phenom who is incapable of releasing a song that doesn’t hit No. 1, was voted entertainer of the year, the most prestigious prize. He won over Stapleton, Eric Church, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert.

Combs, a relative newcomer compared to his fellow nominees, was stunned. “I’m really kind of at a loss for words,” he said. “Every single person that was nominated for this award this year and every year before deserves to win this. I don’t deserve to win it, but I’m sure as hell glad that I did.”

The most shocked reaction of the night was easily Carly Pearce, who burst into tears when she was announced as female vocalist of the year. Pearce, who had a lengthy journey trying to make it as a singer in Nashville, was crying so hard that she could barely talk onstage.


“I really didn’t think this was going to happen,” sobbed Pearce, whose album “29” chronicled her recent marriage and divorce from country singer Michael Ray. “I’ve had just a crazy year, and I just want you guys to know that this means everything to me. Country music saved me at a time that I needed it.”

Those weren’t the only emotional moments — here are some of the best and worst moments from the three-hour telecast. A full list of winners and nominees is below.

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A big night for the Brothers Osborne

Brothers Osborne, Maryland natives John and TJ Osborne, have long been industry favorites — this was their fourth time winning duo of the year. But this prize took on a special meaning, as TJ Osborne came out in February, becoming the first openly gay male artist on a major country music label. The genre has historically not always been a welcome place for LGBTQ artists, but the reception to TJ this year has been overwhelmingly supportive.


On his way to the stage, TJ kissed his boyfriend on camera, in what was likely a televised first for a country music award show. “It’s been a crazy roller coaster of a year for us in so many ways, especially for me emotionally and to have you all support me — it really does feel like love wins tonight,” TJ said. (“Give this boy a round of applause,” John urged, as the audience gave him a standing ovation.)

Later, before they performed their new song “Younger Me,” TJ addressed the crowd again. “For many years I would watch this show, year after year, and I always thought how incredible it would be. I would dream of being up here on this stage,” he said. “I always felt, truthfully felt, like it would never be possible because of my sexuality, to be here. And I just wish my younger me could see me now.”

Jennifer Hudson and Chris Stapleton’s duet

Somehow, a rumor started that Adele would be joining Stapleton onstage. Instead, after his own solo performance, he accompanied Jennifer Hudson for an Aretha Franklin tribute, paying homage to the Queen of Soul’s connection to country music. (“The connection between country and soul and gospel runs deep,” presenter Trisha Yearwood explained.) Hudson delivered a terrific performance of “Night Life,” and Stapleton joined in on vocals for “You Are My Sunshine,” making it one of the best moments of the ceremony.

Chris Young was one of Kane Brown’s inspirations before he moved to Nashville, and now the two artists (who share a record label) have a huge No. 1 hit with “Famous Friends.” They looked like they were having a blast, and the song — about how people in small towns have a different definition of “famous” — was accompanied by high school yearbook photos of various country singers, giving everyone quite the view of Blake Shelton’s former mullet.

Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde

Usually, you only see male country star buddies goofing around at award shows. But when Pearce needed a few seconds to compose herself before she gave her acceptance speech for female vocalist, her friend and fellow nominee Ashley McBryde — who escorted Pearce up the stage stairs when she was about to trip on her dress — promptly ran to the microphone to kill some time and distract the audience.


“What she meant to say was, there’s a lot of love, respect and admiration in this category,” McBryde deadpanned after Pearce said something unintelligible through her tears. That small moment between the two, who performed their new duet “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” earlier in the night, also helped shoot down the myth that Nashville’s female stars are in constant competition with each other.

A very emotional @CarlyPearce accepts the #CMAawards trophy for FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR for the first time, with a little help from fellow nominee @AshleyMcBryde! #WomenSupportingWomen ❤️

— CMA Country Music (@CountryMusic) November 11, 2021

Jimmie Allen’s win

Speaking of tears, Jimmie Allen (who just got booted off “Dancing With the Stars” this week) seemed like the industry favorite to win for new artist, and indeed, he took home the trophy. He started to choke up as he dedicated the win to his late father for introducing him to country music.

“Five years ago, I spent my last $100 and came to the CMA 50th to watch Charley Pride perform onstage. And I got to perform with him last year,” said Allen, who sang with Pride before he died of covid-19 shortly after last year’s CMA Awards. “Everyone that voted for me, thank you. ... After 10 years of being here, living in my car, living in the trailer, working every job — this is amazing.”

Deana Carter and Lainey Wilson’s introduction

One of the best parts of country award shows is when singers genuinely get psyched about their favorite iconic artists who stop by for cameos. This year, everyone was excited to see Deana Carter, who presented single of the year with newcomer Lainey Wilson — though they first paid homage to Carter’s very famous hit.


“Deana here won single of the year in 1997 for one of my favorite songs, called ‘Strawberry Wine,’ ” Wilson informed the audience.

“Thank you, Lainey,” Carter responded. “Should we sing a little bit of that, since it’s been 25 years? Y’all know how it goes!” The two flawlessly belted out the famous chorus, and were joined by many delighted artists in the crowd, including Dierks Bentley, Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Miranda Lambert.

Deana Carter, Lainey Wilson and the entire #CMAawards audience sing "Strawberry Wine" 🎶 #CMAawards @Tennessean

— Dani Medina (@danimedinanews) November 11, 2021

Mickey Guyton, Brittney Spencer, Madeline Edwards and “Love My Hair”

In 2018, New Orleans sixth grader Faith Fennidy was sent home from school because her braids were deemed a “distraction.” The incident, which went viral, inspired singer Mickey Guyton’s song “Love My Hair.” Fennidy was invited to the CMAs to introduce the powerful performance from Guyton, along with Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards.


“This next artist created this song to make sure girls like me feel seen and loved. That’s how you turn something very painful into something very positive,” Fennidy said as the crowd cheered. “With your help, we can work together to ensure the next generation grows up in a respectful and open world for natural hair.”


Luke Bryan as host

This wasn’t nearly as rough as Bryan’s previous stints co-hosting the Academy of Country Music Awards. Even Lionel Richie and Katy Perry, Bryan’s fellow “American Idol” judges, briefly showed up to help out, as they joked they had seen his previous hosting gigs. But Bryan’s corny jokes and forgettable monologue come nowhere close to the years of co-hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who perfected their comedic timing.

One of Bryan’s digs has already made headlines: He joked about people in the crowd being “immunized,” a reference to unvaccinated Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The camera quickly cut to Underwood, whose husband, former hockey player Mike Fisher, just penned a passionate defense of Rodgers on Instagram — and Underwood did not look amused.

Zac Brown Band’s performance

Was it “Chicken Fried”? Was it “Knee Deep”? No, it was “Same Boat,” a song from the Zac Brown Band that sounds … well, exactly like a bunch of their other songs. It’s endlessly confusing when you hear it on the radio and not much better on TV.

Relegating Kelsea Ballerini’s win to off-camera

Kelsea Ballerini is routinely overlooked at award shows, and this year, she unexpectedly won two prizes: music video and musical event for “Half of My Hometown,” her duet with Kenny Chesney. Both were announced hours before the show on “Good Morning America.” We understand that producers can’t give out every prize on TV, but it was a missed opportunity for a moving moment.

Dan + Shay’s stressful stage

Anyone else spend the entire performance thinking they were going to fall off this thing? Just us? Okay.



Eric Church

Luke Combs (winner)

Miranda Lambert

Chris Stapleton

Carrie Underwood


“Heart” — Eric Church

“Starting Over” — Chris Stapleton (winner)

“29” — Carly Pearce

“Dangerous: The Double Album” — Morgan Wallen

“Skeletons” — Brothers Osborne


“Hell Of a View” — Eric Church

“Starting Over” — Chris Stapleton (winner)

“The Good Ones” — Gabby Barrett

“One Night Standards” — Ashley McBryde

“Famous Friends” — Chris Young with Kane Brown


“Hell Of a View” — Eric Church (written by Church, Casey Beathard, Monty Criswell)

“Starting Over” — Chris Stapleton (written by Stapleton and Mike Henderson) (winner)

“The Good Ones” — Gabby Barrett (written by Barrett, Zach Kale, Emily Landis, Jim McCormick)

“One Night Standards” — Ashley McBryde (written by McBryde, Nicolette Hayford, Shane McAnally)


“Forever After All” — Luke Combs (written by Combs, Drew Parker, Robert Williford)


Gabby Barrett

Miranda Lambert

Ashley McBryde

Maren Morris

Carly Pearce (winner)


Dierks Bentley

Eric Church

Luke Combs

Thomas Rhett

Chris Stapleton (winner)


Lady A

Little Big Town


Old Dominion (winner)

Zac Brown Band


Brooks & Dunn

Brothers Osborne (winner)

Dan + Shay

Florida Georgia Line

Maddie & Tae


“Famous Friends” — Chris Young with Kane Brown

“Half of My Hometown” — Kelsea Ballerini feat. Kenny Chesney (winner)

“Chasing After You” — Ryan Hurd with Maren Morris

“Buy Dirt” — Jordan Davis and Luke Bryan

“Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” — Elle King and Miranda Lambert


“Famous Friends” — Chris Young with Kane Brown


“Half of My Hometown” — Kelsea Ballerini feat. Kenny Chesney (winner)

“Chasing After You” — Ryan Hurd with Maren Morris

“Gone” — Dierks Bentley

“Younger Me” — Brothers Osborne


Jimmie Allen (winner)

Ingrid Andress

Gabby Barrett

Mickey Guyton


Read more:

CMA voters share their thoughts on Morgan Wallen being banned from the show, but still nominated for album of the year

LGBTQ country singers still face ‘roadblocks’ in Nashville. But this Pride Month felt like a new era.

Country star Carly Pearce released a powerful revenge album — and it’s not what you would expect

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